Wednesday, June 24, 2009
It takes guts to take a one-note joke and stretch it out over a long couple of hours. Occasionally, the sketch-to-film adapters will get lucky and create a viable, self-standing feature film. More often, however, it plays like a 4-minute sketch on an enduring, unending loop.
Saturday Night Live in the 90s (or at least the early 90s) certainly had its high points. Boasting classic cast members such as Phil Hartman, Mike Meyers, and Adam Sandler, SNL provided 90s audience with consistently funny sketch material. Sure, there were a few duds in there, but it was a far cry from some of the inane sketches of today.
Banking on their peaking popularity, producers saw fit to morph several sketches into full-scale movie projects. Their aspirations were admirable, if sometimes a smidgen misguided. At times, they misjudged the public's intelligence; that is to say, that the movie-going public realized that something that is funny for five minutes is not necessarily funny for 120 minutes.
Let's just be thankful that the SNL movie-makers were discriminating enough to spare us some of the more irritating recurring sketches. I don't know about you, but my tolerance for watching Rob Schneider describe himself "maaaaking copiiiies!" tends to wear a bit thin. On the other hand, I would like to have gotten a glance into Matt Foley's life in a van down by the river, but we can't have it all.
I present to you, the extensive string of 1990s Saturday night live feature films:
Fear not, loyal readers. Inclusion on this list is not grounds for exclusion for full-length posting. It is certainly possible I have 1000 more words to say on Wayne's World.
Wayne's World (1992)
The most financially successful Saturday Night Live movie to date, Wayne's World translated well to a full-length feature and even warranted a movie sequel. Its iconic stars Wayne and Garth (played by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) were emblematic of 90s goofballs everywhere. On SNL, Wayne's World was a humble public access show broadcast in Aurora, Illinois. In the film, the duo sells out to a scuzzy network executive.
Wayne's World is certainly deserving of its cult hit status. Without it, our glossary of humorous-but-eventually-irritating phrases would be infinitely shorter. The sketch and movie spurned such ubiquitous 90s expressions as "Schwing!" "Schyea!" and "Party On!" Most notably, however, they coined the phrase (now in comeback mode due to its use on The Office) "That's What She Said". Yep, you can thank Wayne and Garth for that one the next three hundred times you hear someone follow up an unintentionally sexual statement with it.
One of the most memorable scenes of the movie features Wayne and Garth riding in the car, singing along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Just imagine how excited I was when my 7th grade chorus director let us sing this for our spring concert. Unfortunately for me, there was no headbanging allowed.
Sometimes, not even a million drop-in cameos by 90s celebrities can save a sinking ship (Then again, unless these celebrities were equipped with some sort of ship-hole patching equipment, I'm not sure why I would expect them to be capable of such a feat. Please excuse my tiringly literal interpretations of phrases.) Coneheads as a sketch was occasionally chuckle-worthy, but it was certainly a one-note joke. The Coneheads, a family of aliens from the planet Remulak, attempt to fit in with their human neighbors while stranded on Earth. Oh, and their heads are shaped like cones.
We get it. They don't understand the way humans do things. They speak in overly complex, highly literal phrasings. It's not that complicated or original a premise, and its probably not worthy of a film (even if it is a scant 88 minutes). There's only so far you can take a simple joke, especially one as hackneyed as this one. Sure, the movie had its moments, but in general the Conehead's evasion of the INS was (to quote Wayne's World) not worthy of our time and ticket money.
It's Pat (1994)
By far the worst-performing film in the SNL movie lineup, It's Pat took in an abysmal profit of just under $70,000. Julia Sweeney plays the intentionally gender neutrally-monikered Pat Riley, a misfit of unknown biological sex assignment. The real underlying issue with this movie was that the sketch itself was not all that funny, so it certainly didn't translate well to the big screen. Pat form a relationship with the equally andogynous Chris, and together the two dodge zany attempts to uncover their true gender identities. Heh.
In fact, the movie was so poorly received and remains so unpopular that the only video I could find of it online was the cameo by 90s band Ween (posted only due to Ween fanmanship, with no love shown to It's Pat). Internet bootleg video obscurity can only mean one thing: a movie is bad enough to be ignored, and but not enough to be so bad it's funny and can thus be enjoyed.
Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
I will admit I have a soft spot for Al Franken. Before you get all politically relevant on me, let me clarify that this squishiness is a direct result of his growing up in my hometown suburb of Minnapolis. For this and this alone, I am eternally open to liking any Al Franken output (same goes for the Coen brothers, who also boast my hometown heritage). Though by all means a financial flop, Stuart Saves His Family is not without its endearing moments.
Franken stars as Smalley, a corny 12-stepping self-helper who embarks on a joint attempt to save his ill-fated cable access show and his family. We can at least admire that this is an ambitious undertaking for a mere 95 minutes. Smalley's signature move involved self-talk while gazing into a mirror, reciting, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" See? It has its charms.
Some (I can only assume it was The Man) disabled all embedding functions for the theatrical trailer, and there's no further video evidence of Stuart's existence. For proof, you can watch the trailer here. Otherwise, you'll just have to take my world on it.
Night at the Roxbury (1998)
Clocking in at just 81 minutes, Night at the Roxbury may qualify as one of the briefest of SNL cinematic endeavors. According to critics, however, that wasn't brief enough: the movie has a 10% Fresh rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Though the sketch itself is both easily memorable and imitable, it failed to translate well to a full-length movie. Shocking, isn't it? If people won't watch two slick and sleazy club-rat guys dance insanely to awesomely bad 90s techno pop, what will they watch?
The sketch's signature song was Haddaway's "What is Love?", to which Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan head-bounced repeatedly. I think we can all safely say this premise it not especially worthy of a full movie, and hence the film itself was pretty shaky plot-wise. Steve and Doug desperately want to party at the Roxbury nightclub and eventually open a club of their own, but face all forms of madcap obstacles to reaching their goal. I think we can all see this runs a little thin, even at 81 minutes.
At the very least, it features some great 90s tunes:
Obviously SNL movie producers failed to learn any valuable money-making and face-saving lessons from their innumerable past cinematic flops. At least that's what we're led to believe by their decision to green-light Superstar. Molly Shannon played Mary Catherine Gallagher, an awkward idiosyncratic Catholic schoolgirl with all sorts of odd quirks, most notably a tendency to stick her fingers under her armpits and smell them ("like this!") when in a stressful situation.
In the movie, MCG yearns to be a superstar, which by her definition will land her a much-coveted kiss by supposedly hunky (but really, Will Ferrell) Sky Corrigan. For some reason I've yet to fully grasp, Ferrell also plays Mary's visions of God. Go figure. Mary Catherine's chosen path to Superstardom entails performing in the school talent show, a plot which somehow manages to cover the full length of the movie.
Perhaps not all these films were cinematic masterpieces, but they were certainly enduring in other ways. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find a club playing that song without all or most of its population jerking their head rhythmically in the signature Night at the Roxbury Style. That's got to count for something.
Post-post (that is, after post) note: I just realized this is my 100th post! How exciting. Stay tuned for more celebratory developments later in the summer, including some fun 90s giveaways :) Suggestions for giveaway prizes are always welcome!